Cigarette Smokin’ Babies
Beginner to intermediate Particle tutorial using Maya
By Dariush Derakhshani

Page 1 of 7

Editor's Note: Being an animator is a glamorous profession, as our hero proves in this tale of domestic bliss, a little Gin and an animation project. And, cleverly interwoven between the lines of this story is a Maya tutorial; perhaps you could have predicted that, this being an animation site and all. But herein lies something for everyone, whether it's a voyeuristic peek into an animator's life behind the glamour, or practical tips on how to make 3D smoke that curls and rises toward the ceiling properly.
The door lock suddenly makes a familiar sound. Her key forces the tumblers into alignment and the door swings open, casting an unexpected swatch of air to disrupt Koosh’s cigarette smoke flow. She’s carrying a precarious bag of groceries that she places on top of his black and blue PC tower case.

“Do you mind,” he says, eyeing the bag of primarily vegetable-type food.

“Where’d you get that?” she asks, accusing his lit cigarette as it sits on a teacup saucer on his desk, smoking.

Koosh pushes the retractable surface of his desk under his monitors and looks at her smiling. “Hi, how was your day?”

“That’s my emergency cigarette isn’t it?”

“No!” he says, like a boy covered in chocolate denying he has had any chocolate.

A pause.
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“What am I gonna do if I’m having an emergency?” Vicki stammers.

Koosh turns back to his system and pulls out the desk surface. “Smoke a carrot.”

She picks up her bag and takes it around him and into their small kitchen. “I never liked you,” she retorts back to him. “If you’re gonna use my emergency cigarette, at least have the decency to smoke the thing and not let it sit there lonely.”

“It’s a reference. I’m doing a particle effect.”

“Particle effect of what?”

“Duh, a cigarette smoke.”

“And for that you needed my emergency cigarette?” She points a loaded carrot at him. “What if I’m suddenly thrust in front of a firing squad? I’ll have no cigarette, thanks to you.”

But it’s too late; he’s tuned Vicki out in favor of Maya’s perspective window, which is currently a blank sheet of pixels.

A loud bite of a carrot precedes her question, “Hardware-rendered or software?”

“I’m doing this with hardware-rendered particles.”

“Hardware sucks,” she says as she turns back to her dinner-making.

Figure 1. (Click image for larger view.)
“Well, I want a thin wisp of smoke, and the software particles can look blotchy if you’re not really careful, and I wanna do this real fast, so bugger off.”

He sounds stupid saying “bugger off” since he’s not English.

Notwithstanding, Koosh begins creating an emitter by going to the Dynamics module of Maya, and then selecting Particles>Create Emitter. By using a directional emitter, he’ll be able to control the direction of the particles and their cone of emission. He sets the direction to 0,1,0 so the particles will be emitted up, in the Y direction. The spread attribute governs the width of the emission cone, sort of like the nozzle of a spray hose defines the width of the spray. He starts with a spread of 0.2, to emit the particles in a very thin cone, seeing as 0 would give him strictly a single file line.

The emission rate and speed he leaves as the default 100, cause he’s crazy like that. The emission rate corresponds to the number of particles being emitted in a single unit of time, which in this instance is 1 second over 24 frames. The speed he’s gonna have to tinker with till he gets just the right number. This attribute regulates how fast the particles are emitted. Figure 1.

He slings himself back in the lumpy burgundy chair his Croatian architect friend “acquired” for him years ago, and stares at the smoke coming from the cigarette. As it rises in its column of heated air, it’s batted around on all sides by cooler air surrounding it. The higher the smoke rises, the slower and the more faint and spread out it gets. He takes a sip from his short glass of gin and tonic, comparing the movement of the real smoke to his particles in the playblast window.

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